(Apocalypse of John)
Eaton & Mains, New York
Reprinted 1988 by
Baker Book House
II. THE OPENING OF THE SEVEN SEALS. 4-7.
The Heavenly Theophany. 4:1-11.
After these things I saw, and behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice which I heard, a voice as of a trumpet speaking with me, one saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must come to pass hereafter.
Straightway I was in the Spirit: and behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne;
and he that sat was to look upon like a jasper stone and a sardius: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, like an emerald to look upon.
And round about the throne were four and twenty thrones: and upon the thrones I saw four and twenty elders sitting, arrayed in white garments; and on their heads crowns of gold.
And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and voices and thunders. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God;
and before the throne, as it were a glassy sea like unto crystal; and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, four living creatures full of eyes before and behind.
And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face as of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.
And the four living creatures, having each one of them six wings, are full of eyes round about and within: and they have no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.
And when the living creatures shall give glory and honor and thanks to him that sitteth on the throne, to him that liveth for ever and ever,
the four and twenty elders shall fall down before him that sitteth on the throne, and shall worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and shall cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created.
The messages to the seven churches were appropriately introduced by a sublime Christophany; for they were specific counsels of Christ himself, the Son of man, to the churches of that time, and, indeed, of every period and place which exhibit similar conditions. But what follows, even to the conclusion of the book, consists mainly of symbolic revelations, and they are appropriately introduced by a Theophany, seen in the opened heaven. The contents of this vision, minutely analyzed, may be thus arranged:
- Vision of the throne and the One sitting thereon, 1-3.
- The twenty-four elders, 4.
- The lightnings, voices, and thunders, 5.
- The seven lamps of fire, 5.
- The glassy sea, 6.
- The four living creatures, 6-8.
- The heavenly worship, 8-11.
- The book with seven seals, 5:1-4.
- The Lamb in the midst of the throne, 5-7.
- The worship of God and the Lamb, 8-14.
(1) Song of the living creatures and the elders, 8-10.
(2) Song of myriad angels, 11, 12.
(3) Song of the whole creation, 13.
(4) Response of the living creatures and elders, 14.
Such heaven-scenes appear in the earliest fragments of apocalyptic writing, as in Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 6:3, 7; but the most notable Old Testament models, after which the visions of these two chapters have been patterned, are the visions of Isa. 6:1-4, and Ezek. 1:4-28; 10:1-22. It detracts not from the inspiration and originality of John that he made himself a profound student of the Hebrew prophets and cast his own visions in the forms long consecrated to the purposes of holy revelation. The noblest human element as well as the divine in sacred scripture is manifest in such appropriation of metaphor and symbol.
1. After these things—After the visions and testimonies recorded in the preceding chapters. How long after is not said, and is of no importance in our study of this book. It is pitiable to note what long paragraphs and even pages have been written on such a trivial question. Whether it was “soon after,” or “some time after,” or “after he had written down the previous visions,” matters not, and are all questions which probably never seriously occupied the thoughts of the sacred writer. Door opened in heaven—Heaven is the place of God’s throne and the source of all true revelations. Therefore, in order to see and know the mysteries of God, the door of his heavenly temple must be opened. Comp. Gen. 28:17; Ezek. 1:1; Matt. 3:16; Acts 7:56; 10:11; 2nd Cor. 12:1-4. The most exact translation of the words which follow is: And the voice the first which I heard (was) as of a trumpet speaking with me; and the obvious reference is, to the first voice heard after the vision of the opened door. John heard other voices after this first one. Comp. verses 5, 8, 10; 5:2, 9, 11, 13. Some think it was the same voice mentioned so similarly in 1:10, and to be understood as the voice of Christ. But it is only by inference that the “great voice” of 1:10, is supposed to be that of Christ, and, as Christ has been speaking continuously through the seven epistles of chaps. 2 and 3, it is by no means so evident as some assume that the first voice which I heard is intended to refer to the voice spoken of in 1:10, or that it was the voice of Christ. There are many and great voices which are heard speaking in this Apocalypse, and it is not important to determine whether this first voice is the same as that of 1:10, or the first one heard after the heavenly door was opened. It is in any case the voice of heavenly authority, and may well be supposed to have come from him that sat upon the throne. Come up hither—Ascend into this realm of heavenly vision and revelation. John was thus caught away in spirit like Ezekiel to behold “visions of God.” Comp. Ezek. 3:12; 8:3; 11:1. This first verse of chap. 4 begins and ends with the same words, after these things (______), and the reference seems to be in each case substantially the same. That which must come to pass is something to take place necessarily after the things thus far shown, and in the last occurrence the phrase may well be translated simply hereafter. In view of the meaning in 1:19, and the form of words in 1:1, we can hardly adopt the punctuation of Westcott and Hort, who connect the words with what follows in verse 2.
2. I was in spirit—As in 1:10. The language implies a new uplift of divine rapture, but need not be supposed to imply that the seer had meanwhile lost his inspiration, or lapsed from the state of ecstasy in which he beheld things already described. He must have been in spirit to see the “door opened in heaven,” and to hear the “voice as of a trumpet.” But upon seeing and hearing these things immediately a special rapture seized him and enabled him to look through the opened door of heaven and behold the wonderful theophany about to be described. A throne set in heaven—It was in the same heaven (_____) the door of which he had seen already opened (verse 1). The throne was seen as set, or already placed in the heaven, when first the seer beheld it, and at the same time he saw one sitting upon the throne. Comp. Isa. 6:1, and Dan. 7:9. The one who sat upon the throne is not named, but he is described much after the manner of the unnamed one in Ezek. 1:26, 27.
3. Like a jasper stone—A precious stone of various colors, as purple, blue, green, yellow. Sardius—A similar stone of carnelian hue; red, or flesh-colored. These comparisons serve here, as in Ezek. 1:4, 26, 27, to give a powerful impression of the intense splendor of him who sat upon the throne. Rainbow round about the throne—Symbol of covenanted mercy (Gen. 9:12-17). This rainbow was in appearance like an emerald, that is, a precious stone of a light green color, and, aside from its symbolic suggestiveness, serves in the picture as a screen or veil to soften the intense brightness proceeding from the throne.
4. Thrones . . . elders—These are ruling elders, for they occupy thrones after the manner of those who execute judgment (comp. 20:4; Dan. 7:9, 18, 22, 2 7). There are as many thrones as elders, so that each one sits upon his own separate throne. Here we naturally recall the words of Jesus to his disciples in Matt. 19:28: “In the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” John, however, saw not twelve but four and twenty thrones, and the four and twenty elders who sat upon the thrones were arrayed in white garments, symbolical of their heavenly purity and glory (3:5); and on their heads were crowns of gold, additional emblems of their royal dignity. The whole picture indicates a glorious company of enthroned nobles. They sit on thrones as so many kings, and therefore cannot here be thought of as ministering angels or servants. The twenty-four may have been chosen in reference to the twenty-four courses of priests (1st Chron. 24), and in that case the enthroned elders may be regarded as a symbol of the kingdom which is constituted of those who are priests unto God (1:6). But as the gates of the new Jerusalem bear the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the foundations the names of the twelve apostles (21:12, 14), we may well believe that these twenty-four enthroned elders symbolize the glorified Church of the Old and New Testaments as represented by the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles. All these are conceived as exalted into regal splendor, and associated like Daniel’s “saints of the Most High” (Dan. 7:18, 22, 27) with the King on the throne (comp. 3:21) as so many heavenly princes.
5. Lightnings . . . voices . . . thunders—Signs of the terrors and omnipotence of the Most High in the heaven as well as of his manifested presence on earth (comp. 11:19; Exod. 19:16). The procession of these from the throne suggests that the throne of God is the source of all revelation and power. The seven lamps of fire burning before the throne are another symbol of the seven Spirits of God (1:4)—that one universal Spirit from whose presence no man may hide (Psalm 139:7). They are like so many flaming eyes which search the whole world (5:6; Zech. 4:10; Prov. 15:3), and bring every man’s work into judgment before God.
6. A glassy sea—Not “a sea of glass,” as translated in the common version; nor to be identified with the “glassy sea mingled with fire” in 15:2; nor the same as the river of life in 22:1; but simply the broad open space before the throne, the polished floor, such as is to be seen in any great throne-chamber. This appeared in the vision to be so large, and so polished into the brightness of a precious stone like unto crystal, after the manner of a tessellated pavement, that the writer could not describe it more appropriately than by comparing it to a glassy sea like unto crystal.
6-8. The seer describes the position of the four zoa, or living creatures, as in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne. They do not appear to support the throne as in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek. 1:22, 26), but one stands at the middle point of each of the four sides of the throne, and so facing the throne (comp. Exod. 25:20, 22) that the seer could observe the multitudinous eyes before and behind—symbols of remarkable intelligence. The faces of these intelligent beings were like those of Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek. 1:10), and resembled those of a lion, a calf, a man, and a flying eagle, thus representing the four highest types of animal life. As in Isaiah’s vision (Isa. 6:2), the living creatures had each one of them six wings, and they were full of eyes, not only before and behind as seen in their attitude toward the throne, but also round about and within when viewed in reference to the wings. Outside and under the wings they were also full of eyes, and like Isaiah’s seraphim they are continually repeating the trisagion. In Isaiah they cry: “Holy, holy, holy, Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” In our Apocalypse the formula is enlarged into a characteristic parallelism:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, the God, the Almighty,
He who was and who is and who is to come.
It is evident that this whole picture is modeled after the vision of the seraphim in Isa. 6:1-4, and of the cherubim in Ezek. 1:4-14. The living creatures contribute largely to the glory and impressiveness of the scene. They may be regarded simply as parts of a great composite picture of the presence-chamber of the Almighty, not having special symbolical import other than suggesting, perhaps, the ministers and attendants suitable for a throne-chamber so heavenly and holy. Viewed in this light they are merely the bodyguard or immediate attendants of the King, such as are to be seen about the throne and person of every great sovereign when he appears in state. Thus understood they would have no more symbolical meaning than the glassy pavement before the throne. But the detailed description of their forms, and their essential identity with the cherubim of the Old Testament, leave it hardly doubtful that, like the four and twenty elders, these four zoa are symbols of some intelligent beings, or of the whole creation, as active and worshipful in the presence of God. The name clearly indicates living creatures, their wings symbolize rapidity of movement, and their innumerable eyes suggest wisdom and continual watchfulness. With good reason, therefore, have many of the best interpreters concluded that the cherubim are symbols of the highest ideal of the living creation in its relation to its God.
Any really satisfactory explanation of the cherubim must present one predominant idea traceable alike in the Edenic symbols (Gen. 3:24), in those which spread their wings over the mercy seat (Exod. 25:20), and in those which appear in the visions of Isaiah (6), Ezekiel (1), and this Apocalypse of John. As the sword of flame at the gate of Eden was a symbol of the righteousness which demands the punishment of sin, the cherubim may well, on the other hand, symbolize the intelligent and active love that ever worships Him that is holy. Whether hovering over the mercy seat in the holy of holies, or appearing in the temple of heaven, or executing the divine purposes of God, the cherubim represent the highest ideal of created beings glorified before the holy One who rules the heavens and the earth. While the twenty-four elders represent “the church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” the living creatures may symbolize a still higher concept of the ultimate glorification of “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). The elders and the cherubs may therefore represent, not different orders of created beings, but the whole body of the redeemed at different periods of glorification. The elders might well denote the saints of the Most High as enthroned to receive and possess the Messianic kingdom (comp. Dan. 7:9, 18, 27), and the seraphim that glorified and perfected creation of God, including all saints, when the Christ “shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power,” and shall have “delivered up the kingdom to the God and Father,” and the Son himself shall become so subjected “that God may be all in all” (1st Cor. 15:24-28). Then the last enemy shall have been destroyed, and there shall be no more death, nor tears, nor pain, nor night, nor curse (Rev. 21:4; 22:3, 5). In this symbolic portraiture of the throne of God it certainly was fitting to introduce representations, not only of such ideals of power and wisdom and judgment as are ever traceable in the divine administration of the world, but also of such progressive glorification of the saints as shall take place “unto the ages of the ages.” Hence, in accord with the explanation of the cherubim we have suggested, these exalted and glorified beings appropriately cry, without pause day or night:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, the God, the Almighty,
He who was and who is and who is to come.
9-11. The worship here recorded is to be compared with that described in 5:8-14. Here it is solely from the living creatures and the four and twenty elders. They act in concerted harmony, so that when the cherubim lead off in ascribing glory and honor and thanks to him that sitteth on the throne, to him that liveth unto the ages of the ages, the elders also join in the worship, and fall down before him that sitteth on the throne, and cast their crowns before the throne. The worship of the four living creatures before the throne of the Eternal is, like the cherubim at the gate of paradise and in the holy of holies, a pledge of the final glorification of the creation of God, and hence it is said in verse 11, Thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created. If we understand that the elders and the cherubim alike symbolize that which is from the seer’s point of view an ideal of the future ages of the kingdom of God and his saints, the future tense of the verbs, shall give, shall fall, shall worship, shall cast (___________________________), has a noticeable significance. The falling down and casting their crowns before the throne, as well as the words of adoration and praise, are so many becoming forms of humiliation before God. Thus the redeemed and glorified saints of the Most High shall acknowledge his glory and honor and power through all the ages to come. In this heavenly worship we note the threefold forms of expression in the trisagion of verse 8, the glory and honor and thanks of verse 9, in the fall and worship and cast crowns of verse 10, and the glory, honor, and power of verse 11. A threefold allusion seems to be designed in the closing words of verse 11, thy will, they were, and were created. Back of all things, as the source and ground of their existence, is the will of God. It is on account of that will (not by means of it) that all things were and are. They were because God willed it. The _______, were created, adds to ____ the thought that all things (________) not only were in existence by reason of God’s will, but were also brought into existence because God so willed and brought it to pass by his act of creation.
The Book With Seven Seals. 5:1-4.
And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the back, close sealed with seven seals.
And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a great voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?
And no one in the heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look thereon.
And I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look thereon.
This sealed book is a part of the vision of him that sat on the throne, and is not to be thought of as a separate and independent revelation. The division of chapters at this point is unfortunate and tends to mislead the common reader. Having described the throne, and him who sat thereon as the Holy One, to be adored by crowned elders and living cherubim through all the ages, the seer proceeds to record additional features of the same adorable Theophany. On the right hand (__________, that is, as if it were lying on the open palm of the enthroned Sovereign) appeared a book written within and on the back, close sealed with seven seals. This imagery is taken from Ezek. 2:9, 10. Comp. also Isa. 29:11). The book is to be thought of as a scroll, a book-roll, like the Hebrew ____, and written on both sides. Just how the seven seals were adjusted we are not told, but from the opening of one seal after another, as described in chap. 6, it may be inferred that the roll was composed of seven leaves or sections, each one of which was fastened by a seal. The meaning of this sealed book appears from the opening of its several seals. It is a symbol of the mystery of God which is about to be revealed by the Lamb, consisting of “the things which must come to pass hereafter” (4:1). The unsealing of the book is the apocalypse itself, “the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him to show unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass,” and which “he sent and signified by his angel unto his servant John” (1:1) For we shall see (what too many expositors have failed to note) that after the seals have been opened the revelation appears as “a little book opened” (10:2), which John takes from the mighty angel’s hand, and eats, and is commissioned to publish “over many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.” The sealed ____ of this vision thus becomes the opened book (___________) in the hand of the angel, who gives it unto John and commands him to eat it (10:8-11).
2, 3. A strong angel proclaiming—It must needs have been a strong angel, who was able amid “lightnings and voices and thunders” (4:5) to proclaim with such a great voice as to be heard in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth. The entire universe is thus denoted, and no one was found in heaven or earth or Hades worthy to open the book. There is a suggestiveness in the word ____, worthy, in this connection. He must needs be one of high rank and dignity who can take the book of mystery from the hand of God and open its secret things to the knowledge of others. He who is worthy to do a work like this must be possessed of something more than mere knowledge or intellectual ability.
4. I wept—As if in disappointment of what was promised by the voice of 4:1.
The Lamb In The Midst of The Throne. 5:5-7.
And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath overcome, to open the book and the seven seals thereof.
And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, having seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth.
And he came, and he taketh it out of the right hand of him that sat on the throne.
5. One of the elders—It is appropriate that a representative of the exalted and glorious Church of God should comfort the weeping seer. Lion . . . Judah . . . David—All these terms are remarkably expressive of the Messianic hero, the hope and consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25), the blessed Christ of God. Comp. Gen. 49:9; Isa. 11:1, 10. Overcame—As in 3:21. This Lion of Judah, this Root of David, overcame, conquered (_____) by the passion of the cross and the power of his resurrection, so as to be worthy as well as able to open the book and the seven seals thereof. Compare the sentiment of verse 9.
6. We have an obvious Hebraism in the words in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders. The meaning is: between the throne and the living creatures on the one side, and the elders on the other. But the Lamb here seen was so in mid-view of the throne, and so related to the throne, that in 22:1, it is called the throne of the Lamb as well as of God. And so in the song of praise which here follows (verses 8-13) the Lamb is honored even as the one who sits upon the throne. It is all because he “overcame and sat down with his Father in his throne” (3:21). It is a most remarkable thing that when the seer looked to behold the conquering Lion of Judah, of whom the elder spoke, he saw a little lamb standing as though it had been slain. The word ____ is strictly a diminutive, and means a little lamb. It occurs nowhere in the New Testament outside this book except in the one instance of John 21:15, and there in the plural. The striking contrast between the lion and the lamb is further enhanced by representing the lamb standing as slain. The fact of his standing shows that he was truly alive; but something in the vision showed just as clearly that he had been slain. How this was made to appear we may not certainly determine; but the two descriptive participles (_____—_______) taken together express the same great truth as the Lord himself proclaims in 1:18, “I was dead, and behold I am alive unto the ages of the ages.” That which was seen was a symbol of the crucified and risen Lord, whom Paul set forth as “delivered up for our trespasses and raised up for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). The great trouble with Judaism was that it looked for a mighty lion, and was scandalized to behold, instead, a little lamb. The “veil upon their heart” (2nd Cor. 3:15) hindered their seeing that the slain lamb was also the lion of Judah. This lamb, moreover, had seven horns and seven eyes. The horns are here, as elsewhere, symbols of power, and the seven suggests the perfection of power possessed by the lamb. The seven eyes are symbols of a corresponding perfection of wisdom, and are defined to be identical with the seven Spirits of God, which have already been described as so many “lamps of fire burning before the throne” (4:5). He who has these seven eyes is competent to “search all things, even the deep things of God” (1st Cor. 2:10). It is especially worthy of notice that the seven Spirits of God are here identified with the eyes of the Lamb, and hence the inference that the Spirit as well as the throne of God is in some profound and wonderful sense the Spirit of the Lamb. Comp. also 1:4, and 3:1.
7. He came and has taken—This use of the perfect instead of the aorist may be charged to the inaccurate grammar peculiar to the Apocalypse. His coming and taking the book from the right hand of him that sat upon the throne evinced that though he had been slain he was now alive and active, and powerful to reveal the deep things of God. In the vision of cbap. 10 we shall see how the book, when opened, is given to John to be eaten.
The Worship of God and The Lamb. 5:8-14.
And when he had taken the book, the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation,
and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth.
And I saw, and I heard a voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
saying with a great voice, Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing.
And every created thing which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and on the sea, and all things that are in them, heard I saying, Unto him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honor, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever.
And the four living creatures said, Amen. And the elders fell down and worshiped.
The act of taking the book out of the hand of the Most Holy One called forth at once the worship of all the hosts of heaven and earth, for the entire universe was interested in this sublime act of the Lamb. The worship as here described consists of four parts: (1) The song of the cherubim and the elders (verses 8-10). (2) The worship of myriads of angels (11, 12). (3) Worship of the entire creation (13). (4) Response of the cherubim and the elders (14).
8-10. The worship of the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders is represented as one, just as in 4:9-11, they are seen to act in concert. Four different expressions serve to indicate the homage they pay, namely, fell down, each one a harp, bowls of incense, and a new song. Harps and bowls full of incense have been thought unsuitable for cherubim, and are supposed by some expositors to be understood only of the elders. But the text makes no such distinction, and predicates all that is here said alike of living creatures and elders. And this is perfectly consistent with the view of the cherubim and elders as presented in the foregoing notes. The symbolic representatives of redeemed humanity may, as kings and priests before the throne, present the symbols of the prayers of the saints. Comp. 8:3, and Psalm 141:2. The new song they sing is something new in kind (____), as if prompted by a new and fuller revelation of the Lamb of God. His worthiness to open the sealed book is celebrated as resting upon three acts of unspeakable love: (1) Thou wast slain, (2) didst purchase in thy blood, (3) and madest them a kingdom and priests. And these three are virtually one, for the sacrificial death, the redeeming efficacy of the blood, and the consummation of this redemption in the heavenly kingdom constitute the infinitely meritorious work and triumph of the Son of God. The direct object of the verb didst purchase (______) is not expressed except by implication (for the reading ___ is omitted in the best accredited texts), but the redeemed ones are said to be from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation. This fourfold designation is frequent in this book. Comp. 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15. In the last part of verse 10 the words they are reigning on the earth show that the conquest and judgment are conceived as present and continuing. Comp. 2:27; 20:4-6; 1st Cor. 15:25.
11, 12. The many angels, whom John both saw and heard, seem to have formed a kind of circle round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders, and their innumerable multitude is designated by the impressive but indefinite terms myriads of myriads and chiliads of chiliads. The expression is an imitation of Dan. 7:10, but fuller and more striking. The angelic worship is notable for its sevenfold ascription to the Lamb of power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing. How infinitely worthy must he be who receives from all the angels homage like this!
13. Finally, every created thing is heard to join in this worship; and the realms of their being are named under four heads, heaven, earth, under the earth, and on the sea, and then, by way of repetition and emphasis, it is added: even all things that are in them. Thus to the song of cherubim and elders, and the great voice of innumerable angels, the entire creation itself, with every part and portion of the same, is represented as responding with like words of adoration and addressing their worship unto him that sitteth on the throne and unto the Lamb. The previous strains of worship mention only the Lamb, but this response of all creation mentions first the enthroned Ruler of the universe, and ascribes to him and to the Lamb blessing, honor, glory, and dominion, which four terms should be compared with the seven of verse 12.
14. The antiphonal response of the four living creatures, who simply say Amen, is eminently fitting and impressive, and the last act noticed of the elders was apparently one of silent adoration, as they fell down and worshiped.
The contents of chaps. 4 and 5 are thus seen to be an apocalyptic introduction to what follows in chaps. 6 to 11, and, indeed, to the entire sequel of the book. Its most striking features are modeled after the visions of Isa. 6 and Ezek. 1, but the New Testament seer shows his own penetration and originality in the fullness and variety of his descriptions. What more magnificent introduction can be imagined than this elaborate picture of the throne of God and of the Lamb? From thence “proceed lightnings and voices and thunders,” symbolic signs of momentous revolutions in the world. And while the vision of these two chapters is essentially a Theophany, the most conspicuous person revealed therein is the Lamb in the midst of the throne. It is worthy of note that in 22:1, 2, the last object seen by John is the river of life “proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
In the artificial arrangement of the book we observe that the first four seals are closely related to each other and form a class by themselves. The fifth and sixth seals form a striking contrast, as if answering one to the other. Between the sixth and seventh seals comes a double vision of the salvation of God’s servants and martyrs (chap. 7), and the seventh seal itself issues in the sounding of the seven trumpets (chaps. 8-11), which are again capable of division into four and three, as will be pointed out in the proper place. The first four seals are rapidly opened one after another and disclose a fourfold picture of impending judgments. They reveal in each case what one of the four living creatures calls forth, and the imagery is evidently modeled after the four chariots and horses of Zech. 6:1-8, with which Zech. 1:8-11, is also to be compared.
1. First Seal Opened (White Horse). 6:1, 2.
And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, Come.
And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon had a bow; and there was given unto him a crown: and he came forth conquering, and to conquer.
1. And I saw—What he saw is stated in verse 2, and the words are repeated at the beginning of that verse by way of resumption, after having stated what he heard when the Lamb opened one of the seals. The word come, which each of the four cherubim utters with a voice like thunder, is not addressed to John, for he was already in position to behold (4:1, 2); nor to Christ, as Alford and Glasgow imagine by comparing 22:17, 20, for Christ is present as opener of the seals; but to that which, in the first four seals, at once responds and comes forth in obedience to the command, namely, first the white, next the red, third the black, and last the pale horse and his rider.
2. A white horse—Symbol of victorious war. The entire imagery of this first picture points suggestively to the opening of the Roman war against Jerusalem, which was irresistible in its movements (____), and destined to prevail (______). The fact that the victorious rider had a bow suggests that in the first stages of this bitter and decisive war the fighting was at a distance, not a close hand-to-hand struggle, such as a use of the sword implies. The war began by capturing the outlying towns of Palestine, preparatory to the siege of the great central city, Jerusalem. There was given unto him a crown—It is a notable fact that Vespasian, who began, and Titus, who completed the Jewish war, both obtained the imperial crown.
2. Second Seal Opened (Red Horse). 6:3, 4.
And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, Come.
And another horse came forth, a red horse: and to him that sat thereon it was given to take peace from the earth, and that they should slay one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
4. A red horse—One having the color of fire (______), or of blood—symbol of the terrible bloodshed inseparable from bitter and relentless war. Such bloody warfare necessarily takes peace out of the land, which is laid waste by its disastrous progress. The great sword is a fitting additional symbol, suggesting, as in contrast with the bow of the preceding rider, the closer and more bloody conflict of hand-to-hand struggle. Thus each successive symbol of the fourfold picture intensifies the terrible impression designed to be made.
3. Third Seal Opened (Black Horse). 6:5, 6.
And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, Come. And I saw, and behold, a black horse; and he that sat thereon had a balance in his hand.
And I heard as it were a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and the oil and the wine hurt thou not.
5. A black horse—Symbol of deadly famine. Black is naturally suggestive of something to be dreaded as a calamity, and the balance in the hand of the rider suggests the scarcity of times when the most necessary articles of food are difficult to obtain, and, when obtained, are to be weighed out with strictest care.
6. I heard as it were a voice—Observe how the art of the apocalyptist makes voices from a mysterious source help to intensify the import of his visions. “That the cry sounds forth in the midst of the four living creatures is, in itself, natural, since the unsealing of the book occurs at the throne of God, which is in the midst of the four beings.”—Dusterdieck. The prices of wheat and barley are extortionate when a choinix (about a quart measure) of the one is held for a denarius (a “penny”), the usual payment for a full day’s work (Matt. 20:2), and only three times that amount of the more common article, barley, for the same price. In a time of famine the most common and necessary articles of food become scarce and costly. The command not to harm or injure (_____) the oil and the wine is supposed by some interpreters to be addressed to the rider on the black horse, and to put a limit to the famine. These luxuries are not to be injured, but rather to remain plentiful, as a mitigation of the suffering when the more common articles are out off. But a more congruous explanation of the command is that which regards it as a general maxim for the time, addressed to any and all whom it might concern, not to waste and destroy that which, though commonly a luxury, may be the only food obtainable.
4. Fourth Seal Opened (Pale Horse). 6:7, 8.
And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, Come.
And I saw, and behold, a pale horse: and he that sat upon him, his name was Death; and Hades followed with him. And there was given unto them authority over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with famine, and with death, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
8. A pale horse— _____, a pale-green; compare the word as used in 8:7, and 9:4. The rider is named Thanatos, Death, and reminds one of Horace’s familiar pallida mors in Odes 1:4, 13:
Pallida Mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas Regumque turres.
But in John’s picture Death was not the only figure, for another personification, Hades, followed with him, as if the two were joined together in the appointed work of terrible judgment. Hades is here to be understood as the underworld, the realm of disembodied souls, which swallows down all those whom Death destroys. So Death and Hades are associates (comp. 20:13). To both of these awful powers was given authority over the fourth part of the land, a notably large portion. Compare the “third part” in 8:7-12, and the “tenth part” in 11:13. The work of destruction for which these awful personages are sent out is accomplished by means of sword, famine, death, and wild beasts. These are no other than the “four sore judgments” of Jehovah, by which he threatened Jerusalem through the ministry of Ezekiel (Ezek. 14:21). Compare the language of Ezek. 5:12; 6:11, 12; Jer. 14:12; 21:7; 24:10; 44:13. We are not to understand the sword (_____) as referring back to the sword (_____) of verse 4, nor the famine as a designed allusion to what is symbolized in verses 5 and 6. We are rather to recognize in the symbolism of the fourth seal a general portraiture of the fearful consummation of all the preceding, and a designed aggravation of them all. The word death, in the latter part of this verse, as associated with the other three destructive agencies, is best understood as corresponding with the ___, deadly pestilence, in Ezek. 14:21 (so translated there by the Septuagint), and not as referring to the specific figure of the rider on the pale horse. Throughout the entire picture of the first four seals we note the prominence of this symbolic number, and. should keep in mind the prevailing habit of biblical apocalypties to represent wide-sweeping judgments in a fourfold way. The symbols of these seals are to be understood as representing one combined set of events, and not as prophecies of calamities far separated in time. “It is not war in one age of the world, famine in another, death and carnage in another, but war, famine, and death in dread combination, all conspiring to plague the men of some one generation. For these things naturally go together. You cannot have the white horse of victory and conquest through the bow without war; you cannot have the red horse of war without having also the black horse of famine and the pale horse, death, in his immediate train.”—Cowles.
The true interpretation of these first four seals is that which recognizes them as a symbolic representation of the “wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes” which Jesus declared would be “the beginning of sorrows” in the desolation of Jerusalem (Matt. 24:6, 7; Luke 21:10, 11, 20). The attempt to identify each separate figure with some one specific event misses both the spirit and method of apocalyptic symbolism. The aim is to give a fourfold and most impressive picture of that terrible war on Jerusalem which was destined to avenge the righteous blood of prophets and apostles (Matt. 23:35-37), and to involve a “great tribulation,” the like of which had never been before (Matt. 24:21). Like the four successive but closely connected swarms of locusts in Joel 1:4; like the four riders on different colored horses in Zech. 1:8, 18, and the four chariots drawn by as many different colored horses in Zech. 6:1-8, these four sore judgments of Jehovah move forth at the command of the four living creatures by the throne to execute the will of Him who declared the “scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites” of his time to be “serpents and offspring of vipers,” and assured them that “all these things should come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:33, 36). The writings of Josephus abundantly show how fearfully all these things were fulfilled in the bloody war of Rome against Jerusalem.
5. Fifth Seal Opened (Souls Under Altar). 6:9-11.
And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
and they cried with a great voice, saying, How long, O Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
And there was given them to each one a white robe; and it was said unto them, that they should rest, yet for a little time, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, who should be killed even as they were, should be fulfilled in number.
The fifth seal opens a martyr scene, and serves to relieve from the spell of horror begotten by the visions of the first four seals. Here again we note the studied method of the writer to vivify and enhance his prophecy by means of revelations of opposite character. We are not to regard this martyr scene as the prediction of an historical event to follow in chronological order after the events depicted in the first four seals. It serves rather for the encouragement and comfort of all who were exposed to martyrdom “in the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Jesus” (chap. 1:9), and corresponds to Jesus’ words in Matt. 24:9, and Luke 21:16, which admonished the disciples of the tribulation and death which many among them must suffer during the apostolic period. Again and again in this Apocalypse we shall notice visions of similar import and purpose.
9. I saw under the altar the souls—The vision finds its explanation in the custom of pouring out the blood of sacrificial victims at the basis of the altar (Lev. 4:7; 5:9). “The life (or soul) of the flesh is in the blood,” according to Lev. 17:11, and so in this vision the souls which went forth in the blood of them that had been slain for the word of God are conceived as so many sacrifices of life for the testimony which they held (testimony here in the same sense as 1:2, 9), and each life cries out from the blood “at the bottom of the altar,” where the victim had been slain.
10. They cried with a great voice—Like the blood of Abel crying from the ground unto God (Gen. 4:10). This cry of the martyr-souls may be understood as arising from “all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel” to the last victim of Jewish persecution (comp. Matt. 23:35-37). How long—Comp. Zech. 1:12. O Master—Observe that the word here employed is not the more common and general ____, lord, but the more specific ______, master, which implies the ownership of slaves. Compare the word _______ in the next verse, and _____ in chap. 11:18. The Master to whom these martyrs pray is God, the holy and the true, and the cry for judgment and vengeance is not to be understood as the expression of bitter and vindictive feelings, but a call for the Judge of all the earth to do that which is due to his holiness and truth. He who forbids men to avenge themselves on one another declares that vengeance belongs unto him (Rom. 12:19). He will surely avenge his chosen ones who cry to him day and night (Luke 18:7, 8).
11. To each a white robe—Comp. chap. 7:9, 13-17. The white robes and the rest assured the martyrs correspond with Jesus’ pledge to his followers that in their patience they should win their souls (Luke 21:19), and that “whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:35). Yet for a little time—Equivalent to the _______, speedily, of Luke 18:8; even before that generation passed away, for the accumulated vengeance was to come upon that same generation (Matt. xxiii, 36). Until their fellow-servants. . . should be fulfilled—That is, until the number of martyrs who were about to be killed even as they were should be complete. These others yet to be killed may be recognized in the two witnesses of chap. 11:3-13, for when the seventh trumpet sounded “the time for the dead to be judged came, and the time to give the reward to the prophets and saints” (11:18). Meanwhile, until that time should come, these martyr-souls are each one robed in the garment of heavenly victory, and, as we are to learn from subsequent visions, guided by the Lamb “unto fountains of waters of life,” where “God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes” (chap. 7:17).
6. Sixth Seal Opened (Shaking of Earth and Heavens). 612-17.
And I saw when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the whole moon became as blood;
and the stars of the heaven fell unto the earth, as a fig tree casteth her unripe figs, when she is shaken of a great wind.
And the heaven was removed as a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
And the kings of the earth, and the princes, and the chief captains, and the rich, and the strong, and every bondman and freeman, hid themselves in the eaves and in the rocks of the mountains;
and they say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:
for the great day of their wrath is come; and who is able to stand?
The opening of the sixth seal, as described in this passage, seems somewhat like an immediate answer to the cry of the souls under the altar, and the imagery is in the main identical with that of Matt. 24:29-31, which describes the coming of the Son of man “immediately after the tribulation” spoken of in the preceding context. The descriptions in both passages are an apocalyptic portraiture of the great and terrible day of the Lord, and the several images and allusions are appropriated from Old Testament prophecy, as the subjoined references show.
12. A great earthquake—Symbolic signal of divine visitations of judgment. Comp. Isa. 29:6, and also this Rev. 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18. Sun became black . . . moon as blood—Comp. Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Isa. 13:10; 24:23; Ezek. 32:7, 8; Amos 8:9; Matt. 24:29.
13. Stars fell—Comp. Joel 2:10; 3:15; Isa. 13:10; Ezek. 32:7. As fig tree—Comp. Isa. 34:4; Nahum 3:12.
14. Heaven as a scroll—Comp. Isa. 34:4. Mountains and islands moved—Jer. 4:24; Hab. 3:6; Ezek. 26:15, 18; 38:20; Nahum 1:5; Isa. 64:1, 3; 40:15; 41:5.
16, 17. Fall on us and hide us—Comp. Hosea 10:8; Isa. 2:19, 21; Luke 23:30. Who is able to stand—Comp. Nahum 1:6; Psalm 76:7.
A careful comparison of these different Old Testament passages in connection with the imagery and language of the sixth seal shows how freely our author appropriates the older scriptures to suit the purpose of his own book of prophecy. The great day of the Lord is thus set forth after the manner of Isa. 13:6-9; Zeph. 1:14-18, and Joel 1:15; 2:1, 2. And as the language of the older scriptures referred to impending judgments of Jehovah on wicked men and nations, so these verses 12-17 are to be understood as a like description of fearful judgment impending at the time when this book was written. And the appalling calamities involved in the overthrow of Jerusalem, and their relation to the kingdom of God, were surely of a magnitude equal to any of those depicted by the apocalyptic writers of the Old Testament, whose language our author appropriates.
We have now seen that the first six seals, as opened by the Lamb, form a closely connected series and appropriate the apocalyptic imagery of the Hebrew prophets. The first four find fulfillment in the war which began about A.D. 66, swept over Galilee and Samaria, laid waste all the cities and villages of Palestine, and became intensified with all those scenes of blood and famine and woe which made the siege and final overthrow of Jerusalem by the Romans one of the most horrible events of human history. It must be kept in mind that these calamities of the Jewish people were announced in most explicit terms by Jesus as a judgment upon that wicked generation for its guilt in shedding the righteous blood of saints and prophets (Matt. 23:34-38). Hence the significance of placing the martyr scene of verses 9-11 in the midst of these pictures of retributive judgment. The first four seals disclose the conjoined forces of war, carnage, famine, and aggravated mortality, moving forth at the command of the four living creatures. But the opening of the fifth seal enables us to hear the cry of the martyrs for judgment and vengeance, and then, as if in immediate answer to that cry, the sixth seal is opened, and all the signs and terrors of the day of wrath appear. These are all apocalyptic disclosures of things which were to “come to pass quickly.”
First Interlude. 7.
(1) Sealing of God’s Israel. 7:1-8.
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that no wind should blow on the earth, or on the sea, or upon any tree.
And I saw another angel ascend from the sunrising, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a great voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,
saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we shall have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.
And I heard the number of them who were sealed, a hundred and forty and four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the children of Israel.
Of the tribe of Judah were sealed twelve thousand:
Of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand:
Of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand:
Of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand:
Of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand:
Of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand:
Of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand:
Of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand:
Of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand:
Of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand:
Of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand:
Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
After the opening of the sixth seal, with its tremendous signs of judgment, one might naturally expect the seventh seal to be immediately opened and the final consummation to be told. But such is not the method of this Apocalypse. As between the fourth and sixth seals the heavenly victory and comfort of the martyrs were revealed, so between the sixth and seventh seals there intervenes a glorious vision of the sealing and salvation of the true servants of God. The martyr scene of the fifth seal is here enlarged so as to take in all the servants (_____) of God, and brethren who have been “partakers in the tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus” (1:9), and who “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (verse 14).
In order to appreciate this method of the book the more clearly, we may here anticipate the subsequent revelations so far as to observe the seven instances in which the writer introduces such visions of triumph and glory between appalling scenes of woe.
1. The martyr scene of 6:9-11, between the fourth and sixth seals.
2. The scaling and salvation of God’s servants between the sixth and seventh seals (chap. 7).
3. Triumph and ascension of the two witnesses between the sixth and seventh trumpets (11:3-12).
4. The hundred and forty-four thousand with the Lamb on Mount Zion, and the world-wide proclamation of the Gospel, between the persecutions of the two beasts of chap. 13, and the fall of Babylon and torment of those who worship the beast (14:1-6).
5. The victorious company, singing the song of Moses and the Lamb, between the bloody scene of chap. 14:17-20, and the seven last plagues (15:2-4).
6. The great multitude, singing Hallelujah, between the fall of Babylon and the last great battle with the beast and his followers (19:1-10).
7. Vision of the enthroned martyrs between the binding and imprisonment of Satan and his release for final war against the saints, (20:4-6).
Thus again and again, in the midst of scenes of tribulation and judgment, we are lifted up by some corresponding picture of glory and triumph. This feature of the book cannot reasonably be regarded as accidental, but is part of the plan and method of the inspired writer, who was divinely guided so as to set the several revelations in most telling form.
1. After this I saw—There was a pause in the progress of disclosures. The terrors of the sixth seal were adapted to appall, and leave the seer in a spell of amazement and confusion. The scenes which followed were of a nature to compose and cheer him. The contents of this seventh chapter are, in fact, an answer to the question with which the sixth chapter ends, “Who is able to stand?” We are herein assured that the awful judgments impending shall not harm those whom God seals as his own servants. How this, corresponds with our Lord’s words as recorded in Luke 21:18, 19, is noticeable: Some of them were to suffer death, and they were all to be hated and persecuted; but “not a hair of their head should perish,” for in their patience they should possess (_____) their souls. Hence the blessed truth of Matt. 10:39: “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” The entire picture of this seventh chapter seems also to correspond with the words of Jesus in Matt. 24:31: “He shall send forth his angels with a great trumpet-sound, and they shall gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” To interpret these words literally, and insist that this gathering of the elect is a visible phenomenon, taking place at one moment or brief period of time, is but to perpetuate an error in biblical exegesis which results only in confusion. The same observation holds in respect to the visions of the sealing of God’s servants in verses 1-8, and the great multitude out of all peoples in verses 9-17. The apocalyptic picture must needs be instantaneous, like any object presented symbolically to our thought, but the facts depicted are not therefore to be supposed as occurring at any one particular period or place. Unless the time and chronological order are expressly stated they need form no essential feature of the vision. Consequently this sealing of God’s elect, and the glorification of the countless multitude before the throne, are to be understood of events extended through an indefinite period, and designed to furnish a vivid picture of the glory of those that inherit the salvation of God in Christ. The period which the date and scope of this book imply is that of the first apostles and servants of Jesus—the apostolic age.
Four angels . . . four corners . . . four winds—These three sets of fours are noticeable, as accordant with a scheme of symbolical numbers, but need not be supposed to have specific significance. The irrelevant fancy which finds in the four angels the four emperors, Maximian, Severus, Maxentius, and Licinius, who hindered the preaching of God's word (Lyra), is scarcely outdone by the notion of Bengel that the earth, the sea, and any tree, mentioned in this same verse, are to be understood, respectively, as Asia, Europe, and Africa! We have had so many occasions to notice that world-judgments and their agents move, so to speak, by fours that we need not stop to emphasize this additional example. The winds are God’s messengers and agents to execute his will (Psalm 104:4; Heb. 1:7), and the four points of the compass are appropriately called the four corners qf the earth. The earth, sea, and tree are naturally mentioned as objects affected by the wind, and also in anticipation of the things to be smitten by the coming plagues (see 8:7, 8). It accords with the spirit and style of apocalyptics that all the forces of the world should be conceived as committed to the charge of angels. Compare “the angel of the waters” in 16:5.
2. Another angel—The ministry of innumerable angels constitutes what may be called the machinery of apocalyptic writings. Comp. Zech. 2:3. Ascend from the sunrising—“It is appropriate and significant that the angel, coming for a victorious employment which brings eternal life, should arise from that side from which life and light are brought by the earthly sun. The angel himself, who does not descend from heaven, but ascends from the horizon, is represented after the manner of the rising sun.”—Dusterdieck. The seal of the living God is here conceived as a sort of signet ring by which the name of God and the Lamb (comp. 14:1) was to be stamped upon the foreheads of his servants (verse 3; comp. 9:4).
This imagery of sealing God’s servants in view of impending calamities is taken from Ezek. 9:4, where an angel is commissioned to “go through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry over all the abominations that are done in her midst.” This mark was to save them from the slaughter about to be executed on the guilty. In a similar way the mark of the blood of the paschal lamb on the dwellings of Israel turned away the destroying angel from the door (Exod. 12:7, 13).
The purpose of the sealing was to preserve the true Israel of God as a holy seed. It was not designed to save them from tribulation, but to preserve them in the midst of the great tribulation to come and to glorify them thereby. Though the old Jerusalem perish, a new and heavenly Jerusalem will come forth to take its place, and the glory of the new dispensation will be that the true Israelites will come, not to fire, and blackness, and trumpet, and words of terror, but to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the church of these enrolled in heaven, and the spirits of just men made perfect (Heb. 12:18-24).
4. I heard the number—The process of the sealing is passed over without mention and the result announced. A hundred and forty and four thousand—A symbolical number made up of twelve times twelve, allowing each tribe an equal number. This number appears again significantly in chap. 14:1, and the new Jerusalem has twelve gates, guarded by as many angels, and bearing the names of the twelve tribes (21:12); it measures twelve thousand furlongs, and its wall is a hundred and forty and four cubits (21:16, 17). Compare the “twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel” (Exod. 24:4), the twelve cakes of showbread (Lev. 24:5), the twelve memorial stones “according to the number of the tribes” (Josh. 4:5), and the “twelve bullocks for all Israel” (Ezra 8:3, 5).
5-8. Twelve names are here written after the manner and spirit in which the twelve tribes are often enumerated in the Old Testament. Comp. Gen. 46; Exod. 1:1-4; Num. 1 and 13; Ezek. 48. No special significance is to be attached to the names or the order in which they occur. Judah was naturally placed first, as the great leader and prince from whom the “Root of David sprang” (5:15), and Benjamin is named last because he was the youngest. Why Dan is omitted is now as impossible to explain as why Simeon is omitted in Dent. 33. Some think the tribe of Dan had become extinct, for while mentioned in 1st Chron. 2:2, his name does not appear in the lists of 1st Chron. 4-8. Inasmuch as he would not omit Levi, nor fail to recognize the double portion of Joseph (whose name is substituted in verse 8 for Ephraim), he must needs omit some one name to secure exactly twelve, and who more suitable to be omitted than the firstborn son of Rachel’s handmaid? The omission is of no significance.
The one hundred and forty-four thousand are thus far presented to our thought only as sealed of God and numbered. The purpose of the sealing was, at least in part, to preserve them from the judgments about to fall upon the earth. The relation of this sealed and numbered company to the “great multitude which no man could number” (verses 9-17) will be discussed at the end of the chapter.
(2) The Innumerable Multitude Washed In The Blood of Then Lamb. 7:9-17.
After these things I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation, and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands;
and they cry with a great voice, saying, Salvation unto our God who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb.
And all the angels were standing round about the throne, and about the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell before the throne on their faces, and worshiped God,
saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever. Amen.
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, These who are arrayed in the white robes, who are they, and whence came they?
And I say unto him, My lord, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they who come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Therefore are they before the throne of God; and they serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun strike upon them, nor any heat:
for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life: and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.
9. After these things—Another stage of the interlude (comp. verse 1), so that the visions of verses 1-8 and 9-11 are to be recognized as distinct and successive. Great multitude which no man could number—Obvious contrast with the twelve times twelve thousand who were sealed (verse 4). Out of every nation and tribes and peoples and tongues—And therefore not confined to the “tribes of the children of Israel” (verse 4). Standing before the throne and before the Lamb—So this is a heavenly rather than an earthly scene. The circumstances of sealing the one hundred and forty-four thousand clearly implied that they were on the earth and exposed to danger, but these before the throne have evidently passed all such exposure to harm. Arrayed in white robes—Appropriate vesture of those who have passed into heavenly triumph and blessedness (comp. 3:4; 6:11). Palms in their hands—Emblem of triumphant peace and joy. The word ______, palm branches, occurs only here and in John 12:13. Comp. 1st Mace. 13:51; 2nd Mace. 10:7; 14:4.
10. Cry with a great voice—The united audible worship of such a countless throng must needs be with a great sound. Salvation unto our God—The word in the Greek has the article, the salvation. All the life, triumph, glory, and blessedness of their being and position are contemplated in this salvation, and they ascribe it all to God and to the Lamb. In these two verses observe the fourfold expressions:
Nation, tribes, peoples, tongues;
Standing, arrayed, palms, cry.
11. All the angels were standing—Comp. 5:11. The verb ______ is strictly pluperfect, and if so translated, had been standing, might perhaps suggest that the angels had been there before these white-robed multitudes came (comp. 1st Peter 1:12), and now joined in the heavenly worship by responding to the “great voice” of the innumerable saints.
12. Blessing . . . glory . . . wisdom . . . thanksgiving . . . honor . . . power . . . might—Seven chosen words of praise, and the same as those employed by the angels in 5:12, except that thanksgiving is here substituted in place of riches.
13. One of the elders—Just as in 5:5; a most appropriate one to act as John’s interpreter, being a representative of the Church of the living God. Answered—Idiomatic use of this word, as in Matt. 11:25. The angel spoke relevantly to the occasion, and so answered the expectant inquiry of John’s enraptured gaze. Comp. Zech. 3:4; 4:4, 11, 12. The question of the elder and John’s answer in verses 13 and 14 are to be compared with those in Zech. 1:19, 21; 3:2; 4:11-13. This form of question and answer serves to give dramatic life to the description.
14. These are they who come out of the great tribulation—Not who came out, nor who shall come out of the tribulation, although this is necessarily implied by logical inference; but they who come (_____, who are about to come). The vision contemplates them as one great company already before the throne (verse 15). The great tribulation—Not to be understood as all the trials which may ever befall those who are counted worthy at last to enter the glory of God in heaven. This comforting assurance may indeed be allowed as a doctrine certainly tenable by reason of necessary inferences from such a picture of salvation and from other teachings of Holy Scripture. But our prophet’s field of vision contemplates a definite tribulation of the near future, that bitter “hour of trial which was about to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (3:10). It is the same great tribulation spoken of by Jesus in Matt. 24:21, immediately after which the “sign of the Son of man” is to appear in heaven (Matt. 24:29). But from the tribulation thus definitely contemplated we need not exclude any of the trials incident to the apostolic period, such as those referred to in John 16:33; Acts 14:22. The entire period between John’s writing and “the consummation of that age” (referred to in Matt. 24:3) was for the Church a time of affliction, as Matt. 24:9, implies. Washed . . . white—Comp. 1:5; 22:14; Eph. 5:26, 27; 1st John 1:7.
15. They are before the throne—Like ministers of his presence. Serve him—So that their heavenly glory is not a repose of idle inactivity, but a service of delight. Day and night—For day and night are alike to “the spirits of just men made perfect,” so that, in fact, there is no such thing as night to them (21:25). In his temple—So their service is that of “priests unto God” (1:6). This temple of God is doubtless the same which, in 11:19, is seen “opened in the heaven”—the triumphal outcome of what is measured in 11:1, and destined to survive the ruin of the great city which crucified the Lord. In a later vision this temple is identified with “God the Almighty and the Lamb” (21:22). And all this is intimated in the statement that he who sits upon the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them, so that they shall dwell with him and he with them (comp. 21:3; Exod. 29:45; Lev. 26:11; Isa. 4:5, 6). This mention of throne, temple, and tabernacle in one verse is suggestive, and shows how all three are virtually one. The profoundest symbolism of tabernacle and temple points out how God will dwell with men and men with God. (See pp. 81-84.)
16. Neither hunger . . . thirst . . . sun . . . heat—Appropriated from Isa. 49:10; comp. also Psalm 121:6. This implies utter absence of all plague and pestilence, and such calamities as were about to come at the sound of the first four trumpets of woe (8:7-12).
17. The Lamb . . . their shepherd—He shall act the part of a good shepherd, as suggested by such scriptures as Psalm 23:1; Isa. 40:11; John 10:11. Life's fountains of waters—Comp. Psalm 23:2; 36:8; Isa. 49:10. Wipe away every tear—More expressive and tender than all tears. Comp. Isa. 25:8; 35:10.
It remains for us here to inquire into the relation of the visions of verses 1-8 and 9-17 to each other. It is evident that the two companies are represented as distinct, but it does not therefore follow that they are of different nature and destiny. The distinctions are quite noticeable: (1) The one company are sealed with some stamp of the living God, while no such mark is mentioned of the others. (2) The one are out of every tribe of Israel, the other out of all nations and peoples. (3) The one comprise a definite number, the other is innumerable. (4) Nothing is affirmed of the first class except that they were “sealed out of every tribe of the children of Israel,” but the other appear in white robes, with palms, and ascribe praise to God and the Lamb. The angels respond to their cry, and one of the elders tells who they are, and whence they come, in terms of description so closely analogous to those of chap. 21:3-7, and 22:1-5, as to show that the innumerable company of verses 9-17 are the same as those blessed ones who wash their robes and have the right of the tree of life and to enter into the new Jerusalem (22:14). They are “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9), and though here they are not spoken of as sealed, there they are “written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27) and “his name is on their foreheads” (22:4).
We observe further that in chap. 14:1-5, we have a vision of “the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty and four thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads.” They also sing “before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the elders.” They are defined as “virgins,” who “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth,” and “were purchased from among men (as a kind of) firstfruits unto God and unto the Lamb.” These as certainly correspond to the select and sealed Israel of 7:4-8, as “the bride, the wife of the Lamb,” in chaps. 21 and 22, corresponds to the white-robed multitude of 7:9-17.
If now we interpret 7:4-8, in the light of 14:1-5, and 7:9-17, in the light of what is seen in chaps. 21 and 22 to constitute the new Jerusalem, we need not suppose the sealed and numbered Israelites of the first vision to be excluded from the greater multitude of the second. If we adopt the view of many expositors in regarding the one hundred and forty-four thousand as Jewish Christians (the Church of the circumcision, Gal. 2:9, 10), we need not thereby exclude them from the innumerable company “out of every nation, and from all tribes and peoples and tongues” (7:9), for these terms clearly include the Jewish as well as all other peoples.
It is most consonant with the language of the passage and the method of the book to understand these two companies as not so much composed of entirely different persons as contemplated in different relations and from different points of view. If we inquire how the souls under the altar to whom white robes were given (6:9-11) are related to this innumerable company arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands, our problem would be very much the same. The greater number may well include the smaller, but the smaller are nevertheless to be regarded as constituting a special class, so distinguishable as to call for a separate description. The martyrs who “were slain for the word of God” (6:9) receive special recognition, and appear again as enthroned with Christ in exceptional glory (20:4-6), but no one would imagine them excluded from the company that inherit the new Jerusalem. So the hundred and forty-four thousand may be included in the innumerable multitude of 7:9-17, but they are first viewed as a special class chosen out of the twelve tribes of Israel. We need not suppose them any more worthy, or noble, or exalted than others, but the definitions of 14:1-5, set them before us as the “first fruits unto God and unto the Lamb.” We accordingly understand the company “sealed out of every tribe of the children of Israel” as an apocalyptic picture of that “holy seed” of which Isaiah speaks in Isa. 6:13—that surviving remnant which was destined to remain like the stump of a fallen oak after cities had been laid waste and the whole land had become a desolation—that “remnant of Jacob,” which was to be preserved from the “consumption determined in the midst of all the land” (Isa. 10:21-23). It is the same “remnant according to the election of grace” of which Paul speaks in Rom. 9:27, 28; 11:5. God will not destroy Jerusalem and make the once holy places desolate until he first chooses and seals a select number as the beginning of a new Israel. The first Christian Church was formed out of chosen servants of God from “the twelve tribes of the dispersion” (James 1:1), and the end of the Jewish age was not to come until by the ministry of Jewish Christian apostles and prophets the gospel of the kingdom had been preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations (Matt. 24:14). The same great fact is again symbolized in 11:1, 2, by the measuring of the temple of God.
Viewed in this light the contents of chap. 7 are placed most impressively between the sixth and seventh seals. The old dispensation is about to come to an end; the city and temple are about to be destroyed by the judgment of God, as foretold by Jesus in Matt. 23:36-38. But before the end is disclosed by the opening of the seventh seal with its trumpets of woe we have a vision, first, of that chosen remnant out of all Israel, composed of such Jews as were “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13; 4:30; 2nd Cor. 1:22), and marked with that circumcision of the heart which is “in spirit, not in letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28, 29). But the revelation does not stop with this vision of a new Israel, surviving as the nucleus of a new age and church, but adds the larger picture of 7:9-17, as showing unto what that chosen first fruits will ultimately expand. The “remnant according to the election of grace” was but the beginning of a “holy seed,” destined to become an innumerable company before the throne of God and of the Lamb, and thus fulfill in the highest sense the ancient promise made to Abraham (Gen. 15:5; 22:17, 18).
The assertion that these correlated visions are so incongruous that they could not have originated with one author, but must needs be fragments of lost apocalypses, is thus seen to be without valid ground. It would reflect most unwarrantably on the literary sense of the final compiler or redactor of our book. The genius for symmetry and tact displayed in the arrangement of the contents of this entire book justifies us in the belief that what recent critics imagine to be dislocated fragments of divers preceding works are all well-considered and artistically planned portions of one great apocalypse, designed to encourage and comfort the earliest Christian churches.
7. Seventh Seal Opened. 8:1.
And when he opened the seventh seal, there followed a silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
The opening of the seventh seal reveals seven angels, who proceed to sound seven trumpets as so many signals of the end. The imagery of the whole section which now follows (chaps. 8-11) appears to have been suggested by the record of the seven trumpets which sounded the fall of Jericho. Those trumpets sounded the doom of the first great Canaanitish city which stood in the way of the conquest of the promised land; these sound the doom of “the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt” (11:8, 13), and which stood in the way of the free progress of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Jerusalem and her temple, then “in bondage with her children,” must give way before “the Jerusalem that is above and free” (Gal. 4:25, 26).
The seven trumpets included in the seventh seal serve, after the manner of apocalyptic repetition, to intensify the terrors of the great day of wrath which were seen at the opening of the sixth seal (6:12-17). The revelation of that great and terrible day of the Lord here proceeds to bring forward a more exhaustive appropriation of Old Testament metaphor and symbol, in order to make a profounder impression upon the seer and his readers, and also to show that these judgments were ordained of God and shortly to come to pass (comp. Gen. 41:32). So Daniel’s apocalypse, in the vision of chap. 8, repeats in various details and with greater precision the latter portion of the vision of chap. 7.
1. Silence in heaven about the space of half an hour—How much learned folly has been displayed in fanciful expositions of this silence in heaven! It has been made to signify the repose of the Church after the Diocletian persecution (Lord); the liberty granted the Church by Constantine (Daubuz); the silent forbearance of Christians under Jewish persecution (Alcazar); the thousand years’ rest before the end of the world (Vitringa). The source of such farfetched notions is in the main a failure to recognize a rhetorical element in Holy Scripture and the art of the sacred writers in their studied efforts to make impressions by means of analogies and contrasts which exist in the very nature of images. What is thus merely incidental and suggestive in a certain context is magnified into a mystic meaning of far-reaching significance. This silence is in the heaven where all these related visions appear, and, as all the preceding, seals were accompanied by voices (comp. 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 16), this last one is distinguished by the contrast of silence. It was simply the silent expectation and awful suspense before the final scene, and the mention of it by the writer serves to enhance the solemnity of the vision about to be disclosed. About half an hour would be a short time, but sufficiently long to enhance the awful solemnity of the occasion. Perhaps the idea of this silence was suggested by the cessation of singers and trumpets when King Hezekiah and those with him bowed themselves in reverent worship (2nd Chron. 29:28, 29), and the half hour may have some reference to the offering incense described in verses 3 and 4, for that Would be about the length of time necessary for a priest to enter the temple and offer incense and return (comp. Lev. 16:13, 14; Luke 1:10, 21).
- Compare what is said on this subject above, pp. 85, 86.